This September, faculty from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School came together to publish an article highlighting a comprehensive plan to take their department down a developmental path to improve diversity, equity and inclusion across their programs. 

The initial conversation for more diversity, equity and inclusion began at a departmental meeting in fall of 2019. They approached the conversations by dividing into three pillars: care delivery and health, workforce recruitment and retention, and learner recruitment and training. Faculty gathered in groups to identify opportunities to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the department.

“We felt like the best outcome from our meeting was that we had such strong engagement from our faculty,” said Andrea Westby, MD, assistant professor and vice chair for equity, diversity and inclusion in the department, as well as an assistant professor at the Medical School. “We were able to push people without shutting folks down, which sometimes happens when approaching some of these challenging topics, and we were able to capture some of the expertise and passion of our faculty around this work through rich conversations and recording of ideas.” 

C.J. Peek, PhD, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health,  assisted in leading the department through these changes. 

“From the beginning, we were able to identify top growth areas that we perceive right now in our department,” Dr. Peek said. “We then began tapping the collective wisdom of the people living in our department before asking consultants or doing surveys.”

Based on the responses from faculty at the initial meeting, Dr. Peek and the rest of the group determined action areas as well as expanding areas of focus to include equity in research and climate and culture as cross-cutting dimensions, in addition to their initial three pillars.

In a conference held by the Association of Departments of Family Medicine in early 2020, Dr. Peek, Dr. James Pacala, who is the department head, and the former Department Administrator Wendy Nickerson created a presentation highlighting ways they worked to start the entire department down the path to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. This was what inspired the team to create an article. 

“We felt like it might be a helpful foundation for folks who don't know where to start and put what we did out there,” Dr. Westby said. “Not that it’s perfect, or that we thought of everything, or that people should do exactly what we did, but it was an effective start.” 

The article, authored by Dr. Westby, Dr. Peek and three other department members, highlights “north star” goals, pointing to attainable actions in each of the three pillars. The article also offers several operating principles designed to invite respectful conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion and how to approach the subject matter, the journey and the people. 

Dr. Peek shared that the project began just a few months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and before the murder of George Floyd, both of which amplifed its importance. 

“It’s really important to acknowledge that what we have accomplished in the past 20 months is a testament to the dedication and commitment of the faculty, staff, learners and administrators in our department and associated clinics toward our goals of equity and justice. They have moved us along this path even through the strain of the pandemic and everything else there is to do in a busy department and personal lives,” Dr. Westby said. “We can only hope to accomplish our goals with collective commitment and action, and their efforts so far are encouraging.”